It is the most popular form of sports betting today. It can also be quite confusing for the novice bettor. Betting on the point spread can be both fun and rewarding as long as you understand exactly what you are getting into.
What is a Point Spread?
There are numerous definitions of the term “point spread.” It is a number established by oddsmakers to provide an advantage or disadvantage based on the margin of victory for a given team. It is also an equalizer for sportsbooks to attract an even amount of money on both teams involved.
A point spread works to even out two unevenly matched teams. Without a point spread, bettors would simply wager on the favorite in every matchup. To attract wagers on an underdog, sportsbooks select a number of points the favorite must win by, or “cover”, this number is the point spread and how you bet “against the spread”.
How the Spread Works
When a sportsbook establishes a point spread for a given game, it creates a favorite and an underdog. Let’s use the following NFL example.
HOUSTON +10 (-110)
KANSAS CITY -10 (-110)
The favorite is identified by the minus “-“ sign (giving points) and the underdog is indicated by the plus “+” sign (getting points).
In this example, Kansas City is the favorite (-10) and Houston is the underdog (+10). The spread indicates that in order to win a bet on Kansas City “against the spread”, the Chiefs must win by more than 10 points. Likewise, a winning bet on Houston occurs when the Texans win or lose by fewer than 10 points.
Essentially, in the betting world, before kickoff, the score was Houston 10 - KC 0.
If the point differential between the two teams at the end of the game was exactly 10 points, a “push” occurs. In the case of a push there is no winner or loser. The bettor receives his or her wager back. Learn more, read what is a push?
In order to avoid a push, sportsbooks will often post odds in halves. Instead of a 7-point spread – a common point differential in football – a sportsbook may post a 6.5-point or 7.5-point spread.
Note: when you wager two or more point spread bets in a single wager, that is called betting a parlay.
What Does the (-110) Mean?
In the example, the (-110) refers to the price of the bet. Essentially, it is the brokerage fee or commission paid to the sportsbook for executing the wager. The fee is often referred to as “juice” or “vig” which is short for vigorish.
Placing a bet on Kansas City to cover the 10-point spread would mean the bettor must risk $110 in order to win $100. If the Chiefs do cover, the bettor receives the $110 wager and the $100 winnings – a total of $210 – in return.
In a perfect world, sportsbooks would set the juice at -110 and command an even amount of betting action on both teams. That doesn’t always happen, so there are times when you may see a bet listed at -105 or even -115 or -120. There are also some wagers that offer even odds, which will pay out whatever the amount of your bet.
What is the "Spread" in Sports Betting
Point Spread Movement
It is common in the sports betting world for point spreads to shift.
A number of factors can influence a sportsbook to change the spread.
In the Kansas City-Houston example, an injury to Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes could lead to a change. A weather forecast that shows the game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City in a driving snowstorm could have a similar effect.
Remember the goal of the sportsbook as well. The idea is to attract an equal amount of betting action on both sides of a bet. Moving the spread is one way to do so.
Depending upon the direction of the line movement, a bettor may have gained an advantage or be put at a disadvantage. Let’s say the following change occurs:
HOUSTON TEXANS +13.5 (-110)
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS -13.5 (-110)
If you were fortunate enough to put your wager on Kansas City in when the spread was -10, you have a distinct advantage over those who bet on the Chiefs at these new odds. The Chiefs only have to win by 11 or more for you to win, but they must win by 14 or more for those who bet on K.C. at -13.5.
One feature that ScoresAndStats.com is proud to offer is line shopping and odds comparison. We have real point spreads from our trusted sportsbooks, getting you the best line for your bet. You can find this in EVERY preview for EVERY game in the major sport leagues. Leading up to every game, visit our pick pages to see this feature in action. Take a look at the NFL picks page here.
Run Lines and Puck Lines
Because of the lower scoring in baseball and hockey, point spreads are different in those sports. Baseball uses a “run line” and hockey uses a “puck line.” In both sports the run line or puck line is set at -1.5 for the favorite and +1.5 for the underdog. The lines never change, but the odds will vary.
DETROIT RED WINGS -1.5 (-175)
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS +1.5 (+150)
In the above example, the Red Wings are favored and must win by two or more goals in order to produce a winning bet. The number in parentheses is the odds you are paying for that side. You will have to pay $175 to win $100 when betting on the Red Wings on the puck line.
A $100 wager on Toronto would result in $250 if the Maple Leafs win or lose by one goal. The bettor receives the $100 bet and the $150 in winnings back.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.
His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.
When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.